Samsung is getting a bit more bold with what’s so far been a fairly soft launch for the company’s first mobile headset, Gear VR. Come March 27th, Gear VR will be available in more than 100 Best Buy locations to try and buy.
Shortly after Gear VR’s announcement in early September, the headset popped up in a few Best Buy locations in the US, but then seemingly vanished before the product launched in December, 2014. The headset was available only online directly from Samsung with nowhere for users to try the device before purchasing.
Two months post-launch, Gear VR became available for purchase on Best Buy’s website, but still lacked an in-store presence. By the end of this month however, the company says that more than 100 locations will stock the Galaxy Note 4-compatible version of the headset where it will also be available for in-store demonstrations. You can check out Best Buy’s Gear VR page here to find out if stores in your state have the headset on
Earlier this month Samsung announced a new version of Gear VR which will have compatibility with the forthcoming Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, and further improvements like reduced weight and better ventilation to reduce fogging.
Announced in September, 2014 and launched first in the US starting in December, the Gear VR ‘Innovator Edition’ has seen a decidedly cautious rollout. Apparently this was due in part to Oculus’ hesitation—who co-created the headset—about rolling out a product that wasn’t quite ready for the mainstream. The Innovator Edition tagline that accompanies the product is a result of the rift between the companies’ desired positioning of the product.
“In Oculus there was this question of this mobile product—’ok it’s running John’s code well, but is it only going to work for super-optimized code? How about the drawbacks?’—all of these concerns, and the idea that Oculus would push this out before the product where we were doing everything right was a big concern internally,” John Carmack, CTO of Oculus, said on stage at GDC 2015 earlier this month.
“What wound up being the position was that we slapped ‘Innovator Edition’ on it. Some people would have rather called it a dev kit but Samsung doesn’t do dev kits,” he said.
But after seeing feedback from the soft launch, Oculus seems to be coming around to the idea that people are actually enjoying Gear VR.
“What got me off of [the idea that it isn’t ready] is that Gear VR launched—limited release, all these restrictions—but a funny thing happened… people kind of like it,” said Carmack. “We’ve had extremely good data on return rates. Media outlet response was way better than expected.”
Carmack further underscored mobile VR’s role in spreading the technology.
“Mobile VR is the infection vector for VR. You’ve got your VR cave and it’s amazing, but Gear VR can go with you on vacation,” he said. “Every Gear VR has probably been on 10 different people’s heads. I think this is going to be extremely important to get people to buy into VR as a concept. Because, it works. We know what we need to do to make it better, but even in its limited form, it’s making an impact.”
Carmack also recently confirmed that Gear VR would “go wide” during Samsung’s next product cycle, getting a full consumer-facing marketing push presumably in tow with the company’s latest phones.